Friday, October 14, 2011

the prodigal son returns

I'm sure the word "fan" was created to describe the hockey crowd in Edmonton, because that's exactly what we are - fanatics. And if the Edmonton hockey fans love you, they will love you forever.

Unless, of course, you commit the horrific sin of wanting to leave. It doesn't matter the reason - more money, better climate, stable family life - if a player wants to leave the team/city, they will be hated with a fierceness reserved for child molesters and Edmonton defectors. Should that player be unfortunate enough to return to Edmonton to play against the Oilers, regardless of how popular they were when they played here, they will be met by a chorus of merciless "Boos" every time they touch the puck.

Every. Single. Time.

The best example of this was with Ryan Smyth (one of my, personal, all time favourite Oilers).

Smytty was drafted here in 1994 and was the city's (and the team's) biggest booster. He wasn't a super-star, power-forward by any means, but he was scrappy, had lots of grit, and sported one heck of a mullet - all qualities that are held in high regards here in Edmonton.

Edmonton Fans LOVED Ryan Smyth, and Smytty loved Edmonton right back.

He was always the last player to leave the ice during the pre-game warm-up, and he would pick 3 pucks out of the net and toss them over the glass to fans (usually kids) vying for a glimpse of their favourite player.

During the Oiler's playoff run in 2006, Smytty became the backbone of the team. He was beaten up and broken down, he got a couple of broken teeth and several stitches in his mouth. He left everything he had on the ice, and then he went back to the dressing room and geared the rest of team up for another period/game/series.

This was a video made during the 2006 playoff spoofing Ryan Smyth's endless cheerleading.

To so many fans, Smytty was the Edmonton Oilers.

And then he wasn't.

In 2006/07, contract negotiations broke down, neither side would budge and they couldn't bridge the $100,000 gap between their offers. When it became apparent that he was going to peddle his wares around the NHL for the highest bidder, the Oilers traded him at the deadline.

And after a tearful speech at the airport, Smytty was gone.

The next year, at his first game back in Edmonton as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, the organization played a heart-warming video tribute to Smytty to celebrate his many years with the team. He cried, we cried, everyone in the building gave him a standing ovation, and cheered his name.

Until the first time he touched the puck and the "Boos" filled the arena.

Sometimes, I just don't understand this city.

But now he's back - an Edmonton Oiler once again - and all is forgiven. The first game of the season, after the pre-game skate, Smytty grabbed three pucks from the net and tossed them into the crowd, and when he was introduced, the crowd once again stood for him and cheered with all their collective might.

Our Smytty was home, where he belonged, and we could just pretend that the last 4 years never even happened.

Do you hold a grudge when players want to leave your team? Would you welcome them back with open arms?

1 comment:

  1. For me it totally depends on why the player is leaving, and how they handle it. How it should be done: Adrian Gonzales leaving the Padres and going to the Red Sox. How NOT to do it: Lebron James. As much as I love my team, at the end of the day this is their JOB and they need to make money and/or win a championship in their respective sport. For the most part, I cant get mad at them for that.If you were undervalued at your place of employment, and there was no opportunity for you to meet your potential in your career, and the company across town offered you more money and better chances for you to achieve your goals, would you not take them up on it in a cocaine heartbeat?!

    As a San Diego sports fan I am used to seeing this happen, especially with the Padres (Yo Adriaaaaaannnnn!!!!) and it breaks my sports-loving heart. You get attached to "your guys", root for them loudly, buy their jerseys, and then POOF....they are gone, and sometimes playing for your arch nemesis. In a perfect world, everyone would be playing for the love of the game, and we wouldnt ever have to worry about losing "our guys", but unfortunately its a business and us sportsfans get the raw end of the deal. I think it was Bill Simmons who once said that as a sports fan, all we are doing is "rooting for laundry".

    This is Jaime, btw. For some reason, it wont let me log in via google....